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Thursday, January 7, 2010

Clearing the Air: 5 Popular Misconceptions About the DC Search

Here's what I'd love to do for you: I'd be thrilled to death to be breaking the news that Georgia has officially hired its new defensive coordinator. It would mean you'd be thrilled that you knew the answer, I'd be thrilled to stop tracking down leads, and we could all sit back and enjoy the pleasant environment that is always created when a fresh start comes to a program mired in criticism. It'd make my day.

But alas, the best information I could give you is guesswork or speculation right now. The information coming out of Butts-Mehre is close to nil, and the rumors surrounding candidates are just that -- rumors. We've already seen on several occasions what happens when we buy in too much to information coming from outside sources. Generally speaking, there's an agent attached to that rumor, wringing his hands and cackling maniacally.

The latest such rumors seem to surround Dallas Cowboys defensive line coach Todd Grantham, and ESPN Dallas is the latest to report that Georgia is interested, and the Dallas Morning News is saying essentially the same thing.

I'm a bit thin on NFL sources, and at the Telegraph, our budget shortfalls and staff cuts mean we don't have a full-time NFL beat writer for me to rely on either. So I'll tell you up front -- inside info on Grantham isn't likely to be found here. I've heard about Georgia's interest in him for a couple of weeks, but I haven't spoken to Grantham or anyone close to him to this point.

That said, you can read Grantham's bio HERE if you're looking for a bit more information on the guy.

I had a reader comment yesterday that he figured Bud Foster probably passed along Grantham's name to Mark Richt after Foster passed on the job, and certainly given Grantham's Virginia Tech ties, that's a real possibility. Again, that's all speculation at this point.

But some of what a lot of fans think they do know about the hire isn't so much about speculation, but rather about misinformation. So, while I can't offer you a concrete answer at the moment on who the next DC will be, I figured I can take a few minutes to clear up some of the potentially incorrect info out there on what is going into this hire.

-- Georgia needs someone with attitude, unlike Willie Martinez. I understand the misconception here because the public image of Willie was generally little more than his postgame, "Bottom line, we've just gotta execute better" quotes. And given that Brian Van Gorder made his gruff demeanor pretty public, it was easy to see Willie as a pushover who was hardly living up to the take-no-prisoners attitude Van Gorder created in Athens. But it simply isn't true.

Willie was downright scary on the practice field. Granted, we didn't often get to see much of practice, but even during the warm-up drills, Willie was often all over his players. While he took a lot of the heat for not having Reshad Jones prepared to make tackles against Tech last year, nothing could be farther from the truth. Willie was as hard on Reshad as anyone could have been. The two had a real love-hate relationship for much of Reshad's early career, but it was Willie who had a big hand in getting him on the right track in 2009. This isn't meant to serve as a treatise on why Willie wasn't at fault for the defensive problems, but simply to say that the faults most people found in his coaching style were a bit faulty themselves.

-- Kirby Smart was Georgia's home-run hire.
Could Kirby still be Georgia's guy in the end? Sure, anything's possible. And the more he talks about things, the more it sounds like he's keeping the door open. Of course, any smart negotiator knows that the more doors you keep open, the more money appears in your checking account. So it's probably best not to read too much into that.

But while fans seemed to assume from the beginning -- and, to be fair, most media folks did, too -- that Smart would be Mark Richt's top choice for the job, that's simply not been the case. There have been rumors that Smart and Richt's relationship was a bit frosty during Smart's first stint in Athens as a coach in 2005, but much of that has probably been overblown, too. Most of what I've been told is that Smart left for professional reasons, not personal ones. That said, Smart wasn't Richt's first call when the job opened up, and by Smart's own admission, he hasn't spoken much to Richt at all recently. Yes, Mike Bobo has likely done a bit of lobbying on both sides to bring Smart in, but the fact remains, Richt has offered the job to at least one and, depending on your definition of "offer" as many as three other candidates along the way. And still, Smart hasn't had serious discussions with Richt.

So while it may still end up being Kirby Smart's job, the thought that he was Richt's first choice all along is simply not substantiated by the facts.

-- The only story that matters right now is who ends up as Georgia's DC.
Yes, that's the big story, but it shouldn't be the only one. Let's assume Georgia does hire Grantham -- or any other NFL guy for that matter. The biggest question surrounding that hire should immediately be how he will fill out the staff.

While the DC is going to have a say in who gets hired for the other two open positions, it may be that those other two jobs prove more significant in any immediate changes to Georgia's look. Will the new assistants be college guys? Will they be hired more for their roles in recruiting or for their coaching background? Will the new coach decide he only needs one more defensive assistant, thus allowing Richt to bring in a special teams coach? And for all the credit and blame the DCs get, it's the position coaches that players are far closer to. When we start talking about recruiting commitments and possible transfers from the current roster, it will be those secondary hires that really make the difference.

-- Once a new coach is hired, Rodney Garner is skipping town. Will Garner look elsewhere if the right job presents itself? Absolutely. He's never made any secrets about his desire to be a head coach someday, and he's spent a long time in Athens waiting for that chance.

But assuming that, because his feelings are hurt about not being named the DC himself, he's going to quit rather than work for another defensive coordinator is really selling the man short. He's stayed in Athens through a number of DCs, so why should this one be any different? The thought that he'll react like a scorned high-school crush is selling Garner short in the same way fans sold Mark Richt short when they assumed he wouldn't fire a friend. These guys are professionals, and if Garner has an offer that will put him in a better situation professionally, I'm sure he'll consider it. But if that doesn't happen, he's not going to skip town just for spite.

-- The new DC has to have ties to Mark Richt. When we started throwing out possible names early in the search process, the obvious places to start were with coaches who had ties to Richt or to Georgia. But the fact that Richt has said that Garner isn't a candidate -- and definitive answers to any question are rare for Richt these days -- should tell us that he's not interested in more of the same.

Make no mistake: Firing Willie Martinez was no easy task for Richt. It was painful. So to bring in another coach with essentially the same scheme and essentially the same background and essentially the same mind-set that Martinez had would be silly. Richt could have simply kept Martinez.

Yes, Richt has said he wants to bring in someone with a similar coaching philosophy to his. But that's not necessarily about scheme. What Richt probably means is he wants someone who believes in the same things he does about creating a certain enviroment in the locker room and prioritizing key issues off the field and how players and recruiting should be handled. It's not about whether he's a 3-4 guy or a 4-3 guy or whether the new coach is someone Richt would want to invite over to the house for some backyard bocce ball every Sunday.

It seems pretty obvious to me that what Richt is looking for is someone who is undeniably outside of the circle of friends he has counted on throughout his career. He wants a new voice and new ideas. He wants a shakeup. Now, will he be seeking out those trusted confidants for advice on who gets the job? Sure. But to assume that the next DC has to be a "Richt Guy" is a broad leap in logic that flies in the face of the tough decisions Richt has already made.


Sports Dawg said...

Great insights, David. I believe Richt's top candidates are still involved in games at this point. If not, the position could have already been filled. He might not get the guy who is next on his list,but at least he wants a shot at them after they get present game off their minds. I agree about the other assistant openings. One of them might even be the DC himself down the road. Nevertheless, all of this will 'come to a head' by this time next week. We are now running the risk that the vacancy does have an impact on recruiting.

MaconDawg said...

Absolutely true.Willie Martinez can throw a beet red, screaming fit as well or better than any coach in America. Contrary to the opinion of some, "lack of fire" was never his problem.

Nor was scheming, generally. He usually had a decent plan for how to deal with opponents. It was the execution that was lacking. Blown secondary assignments. Linebackers looking positively lost in zone coverage. Which bolsters David's point about the other new assistants. One could argue that the decision about who coaches our physically gifted but sometimes underperforming linebackers next season is almost as important as the DC hire.

Joeski said...

Just wanted to say, excellent insights, David, particularly in re: why Richt is looking outside of his circle of associates. Personally, I think that Richt is playing it close to the vest for a variety of reasons, among them a) not wanting it to become any more of a media circus than it already has, b) accomodating the fact that some viable candidate are still engaged in their current jobs, and c) not wanting to be able to be accused of 'rushing the decision' or 'kowtowing to the fans'.

But I think he's probably got a couple of good candidates lined up.

The Realist said...

For all the moaning and groaning out there...

The DC at Georgia is a primo job. They are clearly willing to spend big money for the right individual, and the state is waist deep with defensive talent. Outside of a handful of guys who are already in the SEC, or are head coaches-in-waiting, Georgia would be a promotion. So the sky has not yet fallen. Just let it ride, and see what happens.